tv Dateline London BBC News April 9, 2017 11:30am-12:01pm BST
hello and welcome to dateline. this week we look at the consequences of america's air strikes on president assad's air base. and we discuss the relations between beijing and washington. my guests this week are the china expert isabel hilton, the north american writer and broadcaster jeffrey kofman, and rachel shabi, a writer on middle eastern affairs. welcome to you all. the horrific pictures of the gas attack in syria have brought a swift american missile attack. rachel, how is this seen in the middle east? where do we go from here? it seems to have support for trump's reports. there was praise for the courageous move. bahrain, jordan, turkey. israel, the allies in
the region were supportive. the reaction from syrians has been positive but measured. of course, people welcome some retaliation for such a horrendous act, a chemical attack against your own people, syrian people are going to be positive about anything that retaliates against that, to show that in an international community that is not acceptable. it is also measured in the sense that syrians would say "that is good, but why are there no similar reactions when there is attacks when the syrian regime throws barrel bombs on us or when there are chlorine gas attacks?" there was also a reservation in terms of what is this actually mean?
does this change anything on the ground? is this a recalculation in terms of us policy? it has been clear that they have been keen to stress this doesn't change its policy, it is a one—off strike of retaliation for those chemical attacks. the trouble with these things is that often military attacks have their own calculation. when we look at the syria conflict, it is clear half a million people have been killed, two million have been injured and over half the population are now refugees, some internally. torture is a regular feature from both sides. it is clear the syrian regime are responsible for most of those killings but it is also clear that neither side would be able to perpetuate this war were it not
for external players, and that is the problem. i saneff shaking his head. american foreign policy suggests there is some sort of logical strategy here. i think we have seen this displayed this week. there is no foreign policy. we have a reactive narcissist as president. this is a man who in his speech to congress said "america first, we will take care of our own" and he is doing exactly what obama and others did. he was horrified by the images and said, "let's drop some bombs." did he say it or did others say it? there was a problem where there is no coherent strategy. it is the lack of strategy. some believe obama showed weakness
when he drew his red line. when a sad use chemical weapons and he did not do anything. he has brought in people like hillary clinton and senator john mccain who support what happened. meanwhile, on the far right the isolationist say they betrayed the values he supported. —— he betrayed the values they supported. this is an incredibly domestic policy. what it underlines is we can't logically calculate where he goes next. that is terrifying. a lot of people have been saying that this has been a good thing but where does it go? who will support trump? one of the many unanswered questions is where does it go?
that was part of the problem. when the british parliament defeated david cameron's proposition tojoin a for unlimited attack on a sad's chemical weapons. there was a proposition to join obama for a limited military attack on assad's chemical weapons. i still don't hear the answer now. cameron couldn't answer it then. there has been revisionism about what happened in 2013. the reason cameron lost the commons vote was because of a lack of clarity about what would follow. it seems to be the case again. you have the "something must be done" reaction to the horror of those events earlier this week in syria. something has been done. assad is still in place. you have this heightened tension with russia. ijust don't see where it is going.
in terms of international alliances, there have been declarations of support from the british government and elsewhere but it transforms the us relationships with these countries. britain was told — i don't blame america — britain was informed a few minutes beforehand. that is a massive contrast with the blair/bush relationship where blair played a subservient role but was involved in iraq and afghanistan. was anyone told earlier? my understanding is a few minutes before, britain was told. russia might have been told. this is a different operation. the us didn't need britain for this operation and doesn't need it for what it says is planned. it is worth looking at this as a moment
in the trump administration. we begin to see a bit of maturity not necessarily in the emotional reaction to pictures of dead babies, because there has been a lot of dead babies in syria. if you look at the campaign promises or the rhetoric trump had, everyone who understands international relationships and united states's role in it, rolling our eyes and dreading what was to come. this week, as this has been going on, we have had steve bannon pushed out of the highest levels of security. they are pushing this radical destruction. they are being sidelined and you have a more experienced security team getting a grip and explaining to donald trump that you do need a policy. can you explain to donald trump? he is proposing to cut 40% of the state department's budget. they enable a lot
of the information. i would be interested in six months' time if we don't look at this moment and think this could have been a moment where trump realises that winning it for an audience in pennsylvania is not the same as being president. i love your optimism. you've got to hang onto something. let's agree to reconvene in six months and see. i think this is a guy who doesn't know history and he's not that curious and i think he's learning that this is not like running a real estate company in new york and actions have massive consequences and you can't control what those consequences will be. i like what you're saying but i am as optimistic that even with a smarter team, there is the resemblance of a team taking a hold of foreign policy. i think we are really
vulnerable to these kinds of knee jerk reactions. i agree with what you say. chemical weapons are apparent but let's be clear. —— chemical weapons are at parliament. —— are at holland. assad has been killing civilians for six years now and to suggest this is more vile than all those other murders, it's inconsistent. it is notjust bashar al—assad. he has only been able to do them because he has backing from outside players who may read this situation differently. that is the problem. let's talk about russia. while the us assures this is a one—off retaliation for the chemical attacks, bashar al—assad's supporters might see it through a different lens and they might choose to retaliate by escalation. that has always been a problem with this conflict. the syrian regime can only
do what it is doing. it controls a third of syria and it can do that because it has support from russia, iran, hezbollah and shia militia coming in from afghanistan and iraq. without that, it wouldn't be able to hold the grounds that it does. we also have to accept that the opposition is only able to maintain its opposition because of outside players. that is the worry. russia might see this as a need to bolster its support for the syrian regime. it could have terrible consequences on the ground for the syrian people. the opposition might see this as an opportunity to use it for leverage for more weapons pouring into the region. that is what we don't want to happen. we don't need military escalation in syria. the only thing that can possibly
work is a de—escalation on military terms and that is something we are not seeing trump and his team engage with. there is a different layer to this and that is american/russian relationships. trump was talking about a reset and he has used this embrace of putin and the lack of questioning of putin's tactics. now he has thrown a tomahawk missile in the middle of that relationship. the reason i think it would be a one—off is it will become a huge pressure on trump. what really generated his emotional response was the tv pictures, the chemical weapons were the triggers but it was the emotional pictures on tv that made him want to do something. he will be under pressure to respond if there are equivalent pictures
through other means other than chemical weapons. once a line has been crossed, it is difficult to say, "i am not doing anything this time. it was a one—off." there is a danger of this escalating without clarity as to where it is going to end. we will end this part of the discussion. i'm sure we will be coming back to it. oh, to have been a fly on the wall at mar—a—largo this week, president trump's florida white house where he met with the chinese president. was anything achieved, particularly over troublesome north korea? jeff, what do we know? all of that was disrupted by what happened in syria. i know you want to move on but it is hard to separate them. this was meant to be a relationship—building exercise and this unilateralism by trump
changed the agenda and changed the message. i think it is a question of what the lingering effects of syria and that unilateralism are between the relationship between them. we have this 100 day plan. expectations were low and settling over china, we had fingers crossed to make sure nothing goes horribly wrong. you have mismatched sides. you have a chinese president who hates surprises. everything he does is choreographed and prepared long in advance. he has a difficult political year this year. he has a party congress in the autumn which he needs to consolidate his grip on power. it is always a challenge in china. he doesn't want to be put in any embarrassing public position. they've sat through chinese rhetoric for months and things
—— anti—chinese rhetoric. like questioning the one china policy. from his perspective, what they had to do was present an image to the domestic audience that the president is treated with dignity and can manage this lunatic in the white house. which they are now beginning to perceive. that was successful. they were unhappy about syria and china is a big ally of syria. if you look at the chinese press this morning, syria is buried on page eight and images of a harmonious exchange are front and centre. for the domestic audience, that's fine. in terms of substance, there was nothing much to be achieved in this period. what they needed to set in place is what are the structures of this relationship going forward? things like the climate exchange, which was extremely promising.
that has gone. the 100 days on trade is the beginning of a new structure of routine exchanges in which what the americans will be trying to do is get some concessions they can present to the voters back as having an impact on the economy. the chinese have things to give in terms of market access in china. it won't make a substantial difference to the condition of the american economy which has problems for other reasons. on korea, they can agree that they are both equally concerned, even if they have different solutions. steve, you are my widening—out man. the relationships, those meetings at the white house will have been watched closely because the relationships between america and china are really important. they are, and on the biggest scale.
what happened this week was rather in the same way as when theresa may went out to see trump. it was more symbolic than anything else. she had to get through it without some catastrophe in the same way the chinese leadership had to get through this without some terrible thing going badly wrong. is that the way to have these international meetings, just get through it? they had to get through this, common ground is going to be around trade and trying to do something about korea. it was completely overwhelmed by this unilateral act in syria, with the implication that however much you discuss and seem to get on superficially with the president of the united states, a unilateral act could follow which calls into question relationships and alliances. this was absolutely wiped out, the significance
of this embryonic opening and potentially difficult meeting. the reaction of the chinese to the action in syria? publicly they have said very little about it. there has been some commentary that this was a signal to north korea and i would hope he would have taken donald trump aside and said, "do not strike north korea." syria doesn't have the capacity to hitjapan or south korea or the united states. north korea has that capacity. or indeed ageing, if it wished to. —— or indeed beijing. the problem with north korea is the development of a nuclear programme which you cannot guarantee to wipe out in one strike. you would create a massive crisis on that peninsula
and on the whole of north asia. you would spend years regretting it. trump has said he will take on north korea. this is really frightening about what has happened in syria. trump has done a 180 on his policy towards syria in a matter of days and has done things where he has condemned others. north korea is a much more geopolitically menacing presence. simple solutions to that problem not going to work and will create a domino effect. you have to hope that trump got that message. china can sit quiet over syria despite it being an ally. they cannot sit quiet over north korea. that is right on the border and there is no easy solution in north korea. do you want the collapse of north korea? north korea does not want that nor does china or south korea.
china doesn't want south korea on its border. south korea doesn't want to pick up the mess. rachel, how do you see it? lam nota i am not a china expat. —— expat. i found this meeting was interesting in terms of reminding me about the meeting with angela merkel. trump has been dissing china throughout his campaign. terrible china, responsible for america's trade deficit, provocative in its own region. gaming the economy. all kinds of things and insults he hurled at china. much the same way that he hurled at angela merkel in the way she was running her country. they then have to come and meet him. it is absolutely the case that if he is then going to do these u—turns on his policy, it does throw into question the point of these lines of diplomacy in the first place. he obviously doesn't hold them in much regard.
jeff, what happens now? are we going to move into a more serious presidency? no. i think we are starting to see him discover that swagger doesn't work. that is clear. perhaps it is too much for us to be reading into television images and photographs. he just looks like he doesn't want to be there. when he is in the real white house, it is like a lion in a zoo in his cage pacing back and forward with cnn. or box. i don't think we should assume that we are going to see inconsistencies. is he dangerous? it is certainly dangerous.
-- is —— is uncertainty dangerous? there was this wild erratic february press conference he gave where at one point he said, "i suppose you will have to call me a politician." to give him credit, no one can accuse this victory of going to his head. it is as if he thinks it is a downgrade from being this business leader because it involves politics and being political. he regards these things as almost with a degree of disdain. it is fascinating because most people, if you become president of the united states, at the very least, you think, it's not bad. i think he now thinks he is involved in politics. he doesn't like failure and he has had a number of huge failures. he will not admit that it is his fault but he will change his team and i think we are beginning
to see that. he is beginning to understand that if he is not to repeat these failures, he needs to have a structure in place. we hope we can be contained in a structure that can now be built. one of the questions that comes up is how long will he be president? is he going to be president for months? years? eight years? oreven12 years? will he extend? it is an interesting game. like chavez in venezuela, will he try to change it? he doesn't like the responsibility and doesn't want to be seen as a loser. there is a scenario that says he could actually step down at some point and say, "i've done what i wanted to do and have pivoted the country and set it on a new course."
then he ensures that he is not a loser. he writes his own exit lines. it is an interesting theory because the question is, he is 71, 72. does he have the drive to actually do a really hard job? some say he is one of the healthiest presidents. one of his doctor says this. given what is happening you feeling very u nsettled ? in the time i have been covering politics, it is the most uncertain, unstable, unpredictable period that i've covered in all kinds of areas from china, the middle east, it is hugely uncertain. let's not talk about it
for any length of time because we spend our lives doing it. brexit is another example of it. the presidential election in france is another extraordinary moment. i have never... journalists exaggerate dramas and the significance of fleeting events. this all seems to me to be very unstable and turbulent in quite an unprecedented way. rachel? if you are in any way progressive, what is interesting is watching the reaction and the opposition to that, and one of the disappointing things that makes me more worried is even looking at the way people who have consistently said, "trump is dangerous, unstable, we can't trust him," they have switched to support
his action on syria. that lack of consistency worries me. we have run out of time. that's all we have time for. dateline will be back next week same time same place. but as this is my last time hosting, i want to thank all of our guests and also you, our viewers. until we meet again, goodbye. hello, good morning. saturday brought sunshine and warmth
for about all others but fortunes are more divided today. there's plenty of sunshine, and things are warming up, but creeping in towards the north and west there was more cloud, even just the north and west there was more cloud, evenjust a little bit the north and west there was more cloud, even just a little bit of rain coming from the cloud. you can see here that the crowd is spreading ina see here that the crowd is spreading in a cost colin and northern ireland and mist the coastal parts of the south west. but, the sunshine towards the south east has already lifted temperatures to 21 degrees and as we go through the rest of the afternoon the temperatures will keep on rising where you keep the sunshine. the central and eastern areas that is what is going to happen. further west card will spread inland and across northern ireland and scotland. we have a weather front here, cloud and our breath of rain. aberdeen, down adam byrne into northern england staying dry but increasing amount of cloud.
—— aberdeen and edinburgh. the coastal parts of wales and the south—west, as far east as dorset in hampshire, you will see a bit more cloud lapping onto the shore line and making it feel chilly. but way have the sunshine, 25, maybe 26 degrees is on the cards. a lovely evening in the south—east but north and west we have this weather front, not much rain on it as it spreads across the country. behind it we will introduce some slightly cooler air, it will not make much of a difference to the overnight temperatures, they'll be similar to previous nights perhaps higher. we have more of a breeze and a little bit more cloud around, as well. what that cooler i will do is give a bit ofa that cooler i will do is give a bit of a knock to the daytime temperatures, tomorrow. on the face of it not a bad day for april, some spells of sunshine, patchy clouds, some showers across northern scotla nd some showers across northern scotland which could be wintry. single digit temperatures here, and
25 and selfies today, 15 is more like it for tomorrow. tuesday, dry weather and sunshine. western scotla nd weather and sunshine. western scotland will see some rain and some rain across the far north. even in the sunshine, 15, 16, the temperatures back to where they should be in april. the end of the week, not too bad, again. some sunshine and one or two showers. we stick with that cooler feel. the messages, if you like the warmth make the most up—to—date. —— if you like the warmth make the most of two day. this is bbc news. the headlines at 12: the british government toughens its rhetoric over russia's involvement in the syrian civil war this is the world's largest humanitarian crisis we are seeing, and people are working together, in europe and america.
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